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A summary of the concerns raised by The Patients Association in November 2014 about the service offered by The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) when reviewing complaints about medical care.
The PSHO is the government funded body responsible for adjudicating upon concerns or complaints about medical care raised by patients in the event the complaints could not be adequately resolved when raised directly with the hospital or healthcare professionals involved. However the campaigning group, The Patients Association, have stated that “the work of the Health Ombudsman is unaccountable and wholly ineffective according to families who have raised concerns about the system.” As medical negligence solicitors we have often heard this complaint from families.
The purpose of the PHSO is to: “… investigate complaints that individuals have been treated unfairly or have received poor service from government departments and other public organisations and the NHS in England.”
An individual or family is entitled to make a complaint to the PHSO regarding NHS care once they have exhausted the internal complaints process with the medical body or professional involved. The Ombudsman is designed to oversee the complaints process, particularly when that process has failed to resolve the concerns raised about medical care received. This service is supposed to be of assistance in independently adjudicating upon complaints raised.
There have been a number of concerns raised however by families to The Patients Association regarding a very poor service from the PHSO, where at times it has been inadequate and at others has apparently done nothing more than exacerbate the problem. Making a complaint about medical care is a very stressful and time consuming process for those making the complaint. If a complainant has got to the stage where the matter needs to be referred to the PHSO then clearly they need further help and assistance to try to resolve or receive a determination for what they say went wrong in their care.
Unfortunately the experiences of some in taking their complaint about medical care to the PHSO have been very far from acceptable. The Patients Association gave the example of the death of 3 year old Sam Morrish in Devon, who died following medical negligence in his care. Although Sam died in 2010 and his parents made a swift complaint the PHSO did not respond to that complaint until the summer of 2014, a totally unacceptable delay which only prolonged their suffering. The PHSO acknowledged it had taken far too long to investigate the case.
The PHSO have responded to the concerns raised stating: “We have embarked on a radical modernisation drive which includes listening to feedback from users.”
“We are delighted that the Patients Association has agreed to help us draw up a service charter, which will be a set of promises to users about what they can expect when they use our service.”
As specialist medical negligence solicitors we have repeatedly heard from our clients that their complaints about negligent medical care have not been listened or responded to. Some families cannot face taking their complaints further to the PHSO as they find the whole process intimidating or unclear.
Clearly if we are to have an open and transparent culture for sharing poor experiences in NHS care this system must improve and be made for accessible and responsive to the needs of patients. Without this, trust in the complaints system will dissolve.